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    An ethic of self – T’tzavveh

    In this week’s sidra Moses leaves himself out.

    True, he was a modest man and did not like to blow his own trumpet. But whatever the reason for not mentioning his own name, it does not mean that he was (or regarded himself as) a nobody.

    Judaism is interested in God, the other person… and oneself. All are intertwined in the Golden Rule, “Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord”.

    There are three duties of love, towards God (as in the Shema), one’s neighbour (as in Lev. 19:18), and in some way oneself – because we are each special and unique.

    Loving myself requires me to appreciate my own personality, talents and achievements, without self-adulation or self-abnegation. Without saying “I am everybody” or “I am nobody”, I must say, “I am somebody”.

    Martin Buber says, “Without being and remaining oneself, there is no love”. Hillel says, “If I am here, everyone is here” (Sukkah 53a). This doesn’t mean that no-one else matters, but I have to be myself and rely on myself.

    Not that I can manage without others or that they can manage without me, but I dare not abdicate responsibility and throw the whole burden on the world.

    On the verse, “That your brother may live with you” (Lev. 25:36), Rabbi Akiva says, “Your own life comes first” – i.e. save yourself even before saving the other (Bava Metzi’a 62a). It’s not only that your brother must be able to live with you, but you must be able to live with yourself.

    Hillel also says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But (paradoxically) being only for myself, what am I?” (Avot 2:4); I have to be self-reliant but not only think of myself.

    Rava said, “A person is his own relation” (Sanh. 9b): no-one can or must diminish or incriminate himself without good reason. When the Mishnah says, “A person can see all defects except his own” (Nega’im 2:5), it denotes that I must see my own faults, not just other people’s. I must also see the good points of others, not only my own.

    The Chassidim say that a person has two eyes: one to see his own failings, the other to see other people’s qualities.

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